The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has defended his decision to implement mandatory electronic identification (EID) tagging of all sheep, as farm bodies ramp up opposition to the new rules.

The country’s leading farm organisations have strongly criticised the move, which will require that all sheep sold from October 1 onward to be identified electronically.

Although the minister has stated his intention to introduce a one-off support measure – up to a maximum of €50 per keeper – for the first purchase of EID tags, farm lobby groups vigorously contend that farmers will be out of pocket as a result.

According to various tag suppliers, the cost of electronic tags for factory lambs is in the region of €1.05 including VAT; while the cost of a conventional factory tag is approximately €0.18 including VAT.

Under the new rules, lambs under 12 months of age moving directly to slaughter from the holding of birth will be required to be identified with a single electronic tag.

All other sheep will require an EID tag set comprised of two tags – one conventional tag and a corresponding electronic tag. However, a conventional tag and an EID bolus will be permitted also.

Speaking to AgriLand, Minister Creed said that some of the criticism has been “overstated“.

“I understand there are cost implications; but there are a whole host of other things that should be taken into account as well in terms of the administrative simplification that EID brings – both on the farm side and on the factory and market access issues.

We increasingly find that our lack of EID is an issue in terms of market access; it’s a clearly stated impediment to market access.

New Zealand argument

In recent days, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has contended that New Zealand enjoys market access without the operation of a compulsory electronic tagging system for sheep.

However, the minister has rejected this argument.

“New Zealand doesn’t have EID, but that is a historical arrangement. If we want to get market access, we must have it.

The question is: Do people want us to fold our tent and say ‘listen we don’t want any more sheep market access’? I think that would be highly retrograde in nature.

“Whilst it is true that New Zealand has market access to many international markets (without a robust sheep identification system), this generally reflects historical bilateral trade agreements which they negotiated many years ago and which continue to be in place.

“EID is the best available technology for traceability. What are the foregone costs of not doing it in terms of the new markets that we could open?” asked the minister.

‘The real beneficiaries’

Despite suggestions that the new system will reduce record keeping requirements for sheep farmers moving sheep to marts, slaughter plants and export centres, the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) contends that abattoirs and marts will experience most of the benefits.

Denis Carroll, deputy chairperson of the ICMSA’s Livestock Committee said: “This is part of an established and ongoing pattern, where more and more regulation and cost is being imposed on the farmers with any benefits accruing going to the processors and others.”

It is understood that the department issued a letter on April 8, 2015, to stakeholders indicating that it would be appropriate to review the existing arrangements on implementation of the National Sheep Identification System.

A working group was also established involving the department and stakeholders including the: ICMSA; IFA; Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA); Associated Livestock Marts; Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS); and Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

The working group held two meetings – on July 8, 2015 and August 17, 2015.

There was further extensive discussions on the matter during the consultation process on the Sheep Welfare Scheme.